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Liberty Global and Telefónica name UK JV management

Lutz Schüler

Liberty Global and Telefónica have named current Virgin Media CEO Lutz Schüler as CEO of their planned UK 50:50 joint venture, with O2 chief financial officer Patricia Cobian to be CFO of the combined operation.

Schüler joined Virgin Media in 2018 as chief operating officer and has been CEO at Virgin Media since June 2019. Prior to that, he spent more than seven years as CEO of Unitymedia, Liberty Global’s German operation, which was sold to Vodafone in 2018.

During his tenure at Virgin Media he has been credited with driving the acceleration of 1Gbps broadband, the rollout of new entertainment and smart WiFi services and the market’s first fixed-mobile bundles. Schüler began his career at T-Mobile Deutschland in 1994 and later served in various senior management roles, including COO with Telefonica’s O2 German subsidiary from 1998 to 2010.

Cobian has held a number of senior roles during her 15-year career with Telefónica. Before taking on her current role, she was director for business development in Telefónica Europe, where she led strategy, marketing innovation and played a key role in a number of partnerships, spectrum auctions, infrastructure sharing deals and acquisitions and divestitures in the region. She also led the post-merger integration planning of Telefonica Deutschland with ePlus. Before joining Telefónica, Cobian was a consultant with the TMT and corporate finance practices of McKinsey & Company.

The merger of Virgin Media and Telefónica-owned mobile operator O2, which was unveiled last May, is subject to approval by the Competition and Markets Authority in the UK.

Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, and José Maria Alvarez-Pallete Lopez, CEO of Telefonica, said in a joint statement: “We are about to embark on an exciting new chapter for Virgin Media and O2, and Lutz and Patricia are the right leaders to deliver on our ambition to create the UK’s national connectivity champion. Together they will build a strong, diverse and dynamic team that will bring more choice, more value and world-class innovation to over 46 million fixed and mobile customers and the broader consumer and enterprise market.”

The pair praised Schüler’s “extensive experience in fixed and mobile and a fantastic track record at both Liberty and Telefonica driving transformation and growth” and added that “Virgin Media and O2 will need to quickly capitalize on strategic opportunities in network expansion, digitalization, convergence, 5G and video – all areas where Lutz has a strong background and a clear vision.”

Schüler said: “I’m both humbled and proud to be appointed CEO of this powerful combination between Virgin Media and O2, and I’m excited that we are getting closer to realizing our vision of creating a true connectivity champion in the UK. I have enormous respect for Mark and appreciate the partnership we’ve developed as we prepare both businesses to come together as one and I’m very enthusiastic about working with Patricia as CFO. She is an extremely talented leader and together we will build a strong, high performing team.”

Current O2 CEO Mark Evans will remain in place until completion of the acquisition.